Baptism and Christening Etiquette

Parents and Grandparents Holding a Baby Stand Around a Baptismal Font, the Priest Baptising the Baby
Learn what is expected before attending a christening or baptism. Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images

Do you have a child who will soon be baptized or christened or are you attending such a service? If you haven't been to many of these types of events, you probably have some questions, including whether or not you should bring a special gift or what you need to do once you get there.

Whether you are the host family or the guest of a baptism, christening, or dedication of the child to God, you should know that this is an important day that should be treated with proper respect.

Since each church is different, the clergy or other person leading the ceremony will most likely guide you through the process. However, there are still some basic guidelines you need to follow.

Host Family

As soon as you know that you want your child to be dedicated to God, contact the church office. You'll need to provide information such as the date of birth, the child's name, the names of the parents, and the names of godparents or sponsors. Each church may ask for additional data, according to custom. Let the pastor or administrative person know how many people you expect to be present.

Most churches allow and even encourage guests to attend the ceremony. You may extend formal, email, or verbal invitations. Provide instruction to anyone who is not familiar with your church's customs and be willing to answer questions. You may consider some of the ritual to be common sense, but to someone who has never been to your place of worship, it may all seem foreign.

It's a good idea for the family of the child about to be baptized or christened to arrive at the church a few minutes early so everyone can sit together. In some cases, the church will have reserved seating, so discuss this with the clergy member in advance.

Guests

Baptism, christening, and dedication ceremonies serve as an introduction of the child to the church and follow the sacraments as ordered by God.

This is a solemn but joyous occasion that follows the church's customs, so make sure you understand what is expected of you.

You may receive an invitation in any number of formats. A formal invitation will often ask for you to RSVP. Even if you are invited by phone, let the host family know whether or not you will be there. They need to know how many people will be sitting with them during the church service or mass.

Since churches vary in style and formality, play it safe and dress conservatively. Men are generally fine with suits or dress pants and sport coats. Women may choose to wear knee-length or longer dresses or nice slacks and blazers. If the host family states that the church is come-as-you-are, this generally means that it is very informal. You can still dress nicely, but if you want to be more casual, ask the host for more specifics.

Children

Many babies who are baptized or christened wear christening gowns or an heirloom outfit that has been passed down through the generations and means something special to the family. In order to keep it nice, it's a good idea to wait until right before the church service to put it on the baby and then take it off immediately afterward.

Older children should dress in their Sunday best for the occasion.

They will be the center of attention, so give them some etiquette instruction beforehand. When children know what is expected of them in advanced, they are more likely to behave.

Christening Gifts

Although many people choose to purchase a gift for the child, it isn't necessary, particularly if they have already given something to the child at a shower or during a visit. However, if this is something you would like to do, make it something the child can keep for many years. If you want to give a Bible, check with the parents first to make sure the child doesn't already have one. You can't go wrong with traditional silver items.

Recommended gifts for baby or child being christened:

  • Silver spoon or place setting – may be engraved
  • Silver cup
  • Silver photo frame

The host family may choose to give something to the godparents.

This doesn't need to be expensive but it should be special and specific to the relationship. An embossed or engraved photo album is something that will help maintain memories of the occasion.

Although many pastors and priests don't expect a gift, a financial contribution to the church is always appreciated. You can leave it in the collection plate with a note or discreetly give it to the pastor immediately following the ceremony.

Reception

After the baptism or christening, most host parents will have a reception, often at their home. This doesn't have to be a sit-down meal. Coffee, juice, fruit, and other finger foods are acceptable. The main purpose is to celebrate the child's special day.